Author Topic: The Komnenian Restoration: A Medieval (1) Total War AAR  (Read 593 times)

Martok

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on: November 01, 2020, 07:15:27 AM
So the last few days I've had a growing craving to dive back into the original Medieval: Total War/Viking Invasion.  Despite its age, simpler campaign, and less-than-friendly combat controls, the game remains my favorite entry in the series, even if it isn't the "best" one anymore.  (It's probably only fair to mention that I also have a great fondness for Rome II, Thrones of Britannia, and Warhammer II. :notworthy: )  There are just so many things about MTW/VI that always just suck me into the game-world when I'm playing it -- the music, the sound effects, the art style (I absolutely love the hand-drawn campaign maps!) -- in a way that very few other games I've played have achieved. 

Anyway, enough gushing/prattling.  In addition to not having sat down to play the game in a while, it's also been ages (years, probably) since I've attempted an AAR, and for whatever reason(s), I'm feeling inspired to try again.  We all know how games can make for some terrific stories, if only they could be properly translated into words; and while I'm no wordsmith, I do enjoy telling stories.  :)  We'll see if I still have any aptitude for it; my sincere apologies in advance if it turns out I don't.  :P 






As you can perhaps tell from the above, I'm playing with the XL Mod installed.  It's long been my favorite mod for MTW/VI, as it overhauls the game, while still keeping the vanilla feel.  It adds a bunch of new playable factions (along with new units for said factions), re-balances the game to (somewhat) improve the campaign AI, while also making the game a bit more historically authentic. 





Mainly posting this to show the overview.  The XL mod has a fantastic 29 playable factions: 18 Catholic, 5 Eastern Orthodox, 4 Muslim, and 2 Pagan.  The vanilla game was already no slouch with faction selection (17 of them, assuming you also own the Viking Invasion expansion), but more is always welcome.  :D 





As you may have guessed from the thread title, I've chosen to play as the Byzantine Empire.  Despite them starting with an admittedly annoying amount of territory to manage, they've always been one of my favorite factions to play as in this game.  The Byzantines have the most unique & varied army roster out of all Christian kingdoms, and their strategic position -- situated between the Catholic west, Muslim east, and barbarian north -- pretty much guarantees that things will stay...interesting for them.  8) 





All right, enough prefacing.  Let's do this! 

« Last Edit: November 01, 2020, 09:44:25 PM by Martok »

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Martok

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Reply #1 on: November 01, 2020, 07:15:45 AM
Prologue:  An Empire on the Brink




It has been nine years since the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Manzikert, and the near-constant calamities that have followed it.  The past decade has been rife with civil war, coups, counter-coups, and incessant infighting among the great houses of the Empire -- infighting that we can ill-afford, yet it continues nonetheless.  The Imperial treasury sits nearly empty, and Constantinople has subsequently begun falling into disrepair.  The army has become a shell of its former self -- its pride, prestige, and numbers yet to recover from the body-blow it suffered at the hands of Alp Arslan (and some whisper, the incompetence of the late, unlamented Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes). 

Worst of all, however, is the loss of the heartlands in Anatolia to Arslan and his accursed Seljuks.  Without them, the Empire lacks its traditional sources of manpower for replenishing the Imperial forces -- forces that are desperately needed everywhere now, more than ever...and without which the Empire cannot ultimately survive.  Our enemies remain as numerous as ever, and are everywhere. 



[The Byzantines' starting position. 

I'll cover more specifics below; but for the moment, the important thing to bear in mind is that early on, Constantinople is *the* key to the Empire.  It's the only territory with any real level of development, so until you're able to build up the infrastructure in some of your other provinces, you're forced to recruit most of your military from the capital in the beginning.  With all the territory the Empire has to defend, that definitely makes things a challenge.]
 



The center holds...for now.  Yet that cannot be said for very much longer, especially if matters continue as they have.  What remains of the army has been spread out in a vain attempt to defend all corners of the empire, meaning that nothing can be defended effectively... 



[These five provinces -- Bulgaria, Greece, Nicaea, Trebizond, and of course Constantinople -- form the core of my Empire.  If all else fails, I *have* to hold these; I'm pretty much doomed if I don't. 

I'm holding down the Shift button in most of these screenshots, by the way.  Doing so serves the duel function of both highlighting my provinces so that they're more visible, while also allowing me to check their loyalty levels.  (Green=good, yellow=iffy, red=bad.)]
 



Along the north shore of the Black Sea, and further east among the vast steppes, the barbarian hordes are moving.  Some, like the Kipchak, have accepted our patronage and friendship, but there are many more who have not.  And even among the Kipchak, we know that not a few of their chieftains gather in councils and clamor to ride to our Golden City and plunder its riches... 



[It's always difficult to predict how things will go up here.  In past games, the pagan Cumans (Kipchak) have often been surprisingly good neighbors -- at least long enough for me to deal with other threats first, at any rate.  This has not always been the case, though, so I've learned to be wary. 

If the Cumans do attack, all they can really do (at least in the short term) is take Crimea, which I'm prepared to lose if I must.  (Yes, loyalty there is wavering; I'll see what I can do about that.)  I'd *really* rather not lose the province if it can be helped (for reasons I'll probably explain later), but I can afford to do without it if truly necessary.  Sometimes an Emperor has to make hard choices...]




In the west, the Tsar of Serbia no longer bothers to even pay lip service to the Empire; they are now independent in fact, as well as name.  Who knows whether his belligerence will end?  Or where? 

Wallachia is now populated by even more of the Kipchak.  It is almost certainly only a matter of time before they cause trouble in Bulgaria; even now, the populace there remembers they were once their own nation, and resent our overlordship.   

Perhaps the biggest worry of all, however, are the Magyars.  They call themselves a Christian kingdom, yet they seem to care little enough for Christ's teachings!  By all appearances, they seek to conquer anything and everything they can grasp...and then reach further.  We will have trouble with these "Hungarians", of that I'm certain. 



[Similar to the north, the situation in the west tends to be quiet, but not always.  The Serbians are Orthodox like the Byzantines, and generally aren't aggressive towards me, but they've surprised me on a few occasions.  (Likewise again for the Cumans.) 

Overall, my main concern in this region are the Hungarians.  Even more than most of the Catholic factions, they seem to view Orthodox Christians as being little better than heretics, and are often rapacious.  They definitely bear watching.]
 



In the waters of the Mediterranean, trouble brews.  After all the years of civil strife, we are receiving reports from the strategos that our island themes have grown tired of the constant fear & uncertainty, and are now bordering on open revolt.  Unless something is done soon -- very soon -- we may lose our sea holdings entirely. 

One possible bright spot is that the Sultan of Cairo is no friend to the Sultan of Rum.  I do not wish to express optimism where none is warranted, but I do believe we could make common cause with them.  At the very least, Cairo does not appear to be an enemy. 



[The southern theater is the one region where I actually have decent odds of keeping a quiet diplomatic front:  The Fatamids (Egyptians) have little more love for the Seljuks than myself, so if Cairo sends their armies anywhere, it's going to be either against them, or conquering westward along the North African coast (there's a couple of decent independent emirates up for grabs).  With any luck, I can establish a mutual trading relationship with them, which would allow both of us to bring in ridiculous amounts of moolah.

The one concern I have are my island provinces, which you can see are all ready to rise up against their Emperor.  At the moment, they're of minimal value to me (their combined income is less than 300 florins per year), so by themselves, it's not the end of the world if I lose them to rebels.  However, I really don't want the Seljuks or Fatamids grabbing them, as that would come back to bite me.  Also, I do have long-term plans for the islands...if I can hold onto them.]
 



In the east -- but drawing nearer every year -- dwells the Sultan of Swine, Alp Arslan the Wicked.  For over a decade he has been a bane to the Empire, its single greatest foe.  He has brought ruin to us, and may yet bring even more ruin.  He is the very Devil incarnate. 

Our situation is not completely bereft:  Antioch still holds, as do our Armenian cohorts.  Can they but stand long enough, they may yet help turn the tide.  Still, their positions are so very, very precarious. 



[This will almost certainly be the most important area of operations for me.  The XL Mod makes the Seljuks noticeably stronger (compared to the vanilla game), and in all likelihood, will only become a bigger threat as time goes on.  While this is potentially mitigated by the fact that they often go after the Fatamids first, I'm still going to want to destroy them (and retake Asia Minor) as soon as is practical. 

Also worth noting is the Principality of Antioch, which I currently own.  (I see that loyalty is wavering there as well; I'll definitely have to do something about that.)  Of all my outlying territories, this is the one I'd most like to hold onto by far -- partially for its riches, and partially for its strategic location.  If I can manage to hold Antioch, I can use it as a springboard for opening up a 2nd front on the Seljuks (and invading their heartlands, no less).]
 





With so many enemies, and so many wounds (far too many of them self-inflicted) bleeding the Empire in these dark times, one cannot help but wonder if we are seeing its last days.  There has been too little to cheer about for far too long. 

Oh!  Would that we had a strong Emperor on the throne once more! 



[Stay tuned for the next entry!] 
« Last Edit: November 01, 2020, 12:25:45 PM by Martok »

"I like big maps and I cannot lie." - Barthheart


bayonetbrant

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Reply #2 on: November 01, 2020, 07:31:30 AM
(holding for later)

(waiting for later)

Random acts of genius and other inspirations of applied violence.


bbmike

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Reply #3 on: November 01, 2020, 07:32:42 AM
Having never really played any of the Total War stuff, I look forward to reading this.

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Martok

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Reply #4 on: November 01, 2020, 12:03:32 PM
Good grief, I forgot how long it sometimes takes me to post these things!  Especially the first entry -- I suspect I spend a little too much time on exposition.  :buck2: 


I was actually going to include even more, but I realized the prologue was already long enough.  I'll save the rest for the next entry. 

(Also:  Reminder to self to keep entries to digestible chunks. ::)

« Last Edit: November 01, 2020, 01:22:21 PM by Martok »

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JasonPratt

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Reply #5 on: November 01, 2020, 01:02:09 PM
What are these "digestible chunks" of which you speak? I know what those words mean in regard to food, but in regard to prose authorship I am ignorant of such meaning!

 >:D



thecommandtent

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Reply #6 on: November 01, 2020, 08:55:19 PM
Great start.  This brings back so many great memories of hours spent playing this game!



Martok

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Reply #7 on: November 01, 2020, 09:42:50 PM
What are these "digestible chunks" of which you speak? I know what those words mean in regard to food, but in regard to prose authorship I am ignorant of such meaning!

 >:D

Away, scoundrel!  Tempt me not with thy sesquipedalian loquaciousness! 




Great start.  This brings back so many great memories of hours spent playing this game!

Thanks, TCT!  I'm really enjoying myself so far, even if it is taking longer than I anticipated to put together the entries for the AAR.  (I'm both a bit of a perfectionist, and rather verbose -- a most frustrating combination.)  :P 

I've already begun work on the next entry.  Hopefully I'll have it up later tonight! 


"I like big maps and I cannot lie." - Barthheart


Sir Slash

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Reply #8 on: November 02, 2020, 12:42:52 PM
I never played Medi 1 TW. Looking forward to seeing this.  :bigthumb:

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bob48

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Reply #9 on: November 02, 2020, 01:36:04 PM
I used to play it quite a bit and remember having some really epic battles in it. Been a long time since I played it though.

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Martok

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Reply #10 on: November 02, 2020, 03:12:00 PM
Chapter 1: A new dawn?  Or final twilight?




Yet another Emperor has been crowned, Alexius I Comnenos, scion of one of the Empire's great families.  There is so much I would hope of this man, but how can one dare hope after all the turmoil of these past couple decades?  it would be far better to set aside such foolish thoughts. 


And yet, part of me cannot help but wonder...what if?  What if this Alexius is the man we have been waiting for, hoping for?  The man the Empire so desperately needs?  His record thus far suggests it is not necessarily an outlandish notion. 

That he is the the nephew of the Emperor Isaac I Comnenos (who sat on the throne for far too short a time) is certainly known.  Likewise, it is known he distinguished himself in the army while still very young.  It is also known he was one of only a few officers who performed well in the catastrophe at Manzikert.  And though the details of his ascension to the throne remain swirled in the dust of rumors, it is undisputed that in order to claim said throne, he overthrew Emperor Nicephoros III Botaneiates, who (for all his faults) was not incapable. 

If nothing else, it is clear Alexius is made of sterner stuff than most men.  If so, and if Alexius has accomplished so much already, then what more might he yet achieve? 




[My man Alexius is a beast.  Without question, he's one of the best starting rulers in the game.  Commanding a company of Cataphracts as his bodyguard unit doesn't hurt, either.] 



Alexius wasted no time, but immediately set to work the Herculean task of stabilizing and restoring the Empire.  Among the Emperor's first moves was to dispatch one of his kinsman on a diplomatic mission to Serbia, with the object of securing an alliance with the Tsar. 



[Come on, you stubborn Serbian.  Be my friend, damn it!] 



He next turned his attention to the grievous state of the army.  With the Anatolian themes lost, he ordered his generals to begin recruiting more heavily from the population in Thrace, and even the capital itself.  Knowing well the prowess of their archers, he directed his strategos in Trebizond to put out a call for troops willing to fight for the Empire. 



[Queuing up troops in the capital for recruitment. 

Byzantine Infantry aren't exactly the most exciting unit on the Empire's army roster, but they're solid, reliable, and -- just as importantly -- reasonably priced.  They typically make up the core of my Imperial armies. 

Trebizond Archers are superior to regular archers (which is all that most factions have access to), and generally play a significant role when battling the Empire's many foes.  In addition, these guys get a +1 valour bonus when recruited in Trebizond itself, so I'm currently building the necessary infrastructure there to make that happen (which will then free up Constantinople for recruiting other troop types).]
 



The Emperor also began hiring Slavic spearmen from Bulgaria.  Though not as well-trained or equipped as the Empire's professional soldiers, these semi-barbarians could still serve a useful role in both garrison duty and as auxiliaries. 



[Slav Warriors admittedly don't make the greatest soldiers, but they serve well as cheap garrison troops.  If they do end up in combat, they're usually best employed as flankers. 

Also worth noting is that Slav Warriors are one of several "regional units" in Medieval Total War.  These are units that can be recruited by anyone, but only in their respective home region(s).  Happily for me, the Slav Warriors' home region includes Bulgaria.]
 



One of the most critical -- or at least egregious -- problems was the deplorable state of both the capital and surrounding countryside when Alexius took the throne.  He began addressing this as well, initiating a massive clean-up and repair effort.  Moreover, he assigned scholars to work with the local farmers on figuring out new methods for improving crop production.  He also tasked administrators to coordinate with the army on plans to upgrade barracks and training facilities.  And more was still to come... 



[Constantinople starts out as the Empire's single wealthiest province, so improving crop yields there is a no-brainer (especially when the project only takes 2 years/turns to complete). 

With a 4-year build time, the Spearmaker's Workshop will take a little longer to finish.  It's worth waiting for, however, since its construction will allow me to recruit both Armoured Spearmen and Byzantine Lancers (a "lighter" heavy cavalry that's faster than the Imperial family's Kataphraktoi).  Access to these two units will give the Imperial army some needed tactical flexibility.]
 



While the Emperor had been far from unaware of events in Nicaea prior to his coronation, he was still both stunned and enraged when he traveled there in person, and discovered just how little had been done to develop its underutilized (or in some cases, completely untapped) resources.  Here was a land that should have been overflowing with wealth (and sending a good portion of it into the Imperial coffers), and yet it wasn't.  Nicaea was not exactly poor,  but neither was it nearly as prosperous as it should have been. 

Alexius quickly set about changing that.  After first ordering the strengthening of the city's defenses (he was only too aware of how perilously close Nicaea was to the Seljuks, and therefore horribly vulnerable to raids), he then directed the province's strategos to begin work on excavating mines to exploit the veins of gold and silver that had been confirmed by surveyors several years prior. 

When the governor protested the expense of such massive projects, Alexius simply smiled and replied that he was funding them out of his own pocket, and so he needn't worry.  But if the governor was that concerned, then the Emperor would be happy to sentence him to life working in the new mines as punishment for gross financial malfeasance.  (Where *had* all that tax money disappeared to, by the way?  Constantinople had seen barely any of it...) 



[In the XL Mod, Nicaea is second only to Constantinople in importance -- not merely because it guards the eastern approaches to the capital, but also because of its potential wealth:  The province has productive farmlands, both gold AND silver deposits, plus valuable trade goods (linen and salt-fish).  Nicaea is going to make me a lot of money...presuming (as always) that I can hold onto it. 

Toward that end, I need to strike a balance between developing infrastructure for both economy *and* defense, lest I make the province too tempting a target for the Seljuks to resist.  I decide to start things off by adding a Bailey to the castle already guarding Nicaea, after which I'll construct mines to start extracting those lovely precious metals... 

Also:  I *really* need to assign governors to all my provinces.  More on that below.]
 



This was by no means all that Alexius has done so far, nor the least of it. 

He's begun reforming the tax system, especially with regards to how they're collected (more corrupt officials were dismissed, imprisoned, or both).  He's reviewed all strategos governing the themes, and those he found lacking (which were far too many!) were likewise dismissed or imprisoned.  In appointing new governors, he took special care with the ones he assigned to our island holdings and other outlying territories -- the wrong person in the wrong place could send them boiling over into rebellion in an instant. 


Perhaps most notable of all, however, was that as soon as he started getting the Empire's finances on sounder footing again, Alexius began putting into motion (what is reported to be) one of his most cherished projects: the launch of a major construction program, on a scale not seen in at least a century. 

The Emperor has initially directed the program to focus on shoring up the Empire's defenses and improving public order: constructing & upgrading fortifications, building watchtowers along the borders, and even constructing barracks for the town watch in cities both large and small.  It seems as if you can barely step outside your door without seeing work parties everywhere! 



[Both Watch Towers and Baileys cost only 100 florins (each), and both take only 1 year (turn) to build, making them good options to consider if you're needing to quickly boost your faction's security, particularly in the early game.  (And if you do lose a province early on, then at least the investment lost is minimal.) 

Because of that, I'm constructing Watch Towers and Baileys In my remaining core provinces, as well as in Crimea and Antioch (pictured above), given their strategic importance.  If they don't fall in the next few years to invasion or rebellion, I'll start investing more serious funds into my outlying territories.  Fingers crossed!]
 


[Not pictured, by the way:  Finding (halfway) decent governors for my provinces, and assigning titles to them. 

For my core provinces, my main requirement was characters with decent Acumen, as they improve income.  For my outer provinces, I was primarily looking for characters with high Dread, as they increase loyalty -- a valuable commodity in areas that are threatening to rebel!]
 




Throughout the Empire, people are beginning to take greater notice of the young man who now sits on the throne in Constantinople.  Most still ignore him, of course -- he's just another Emperor, after all (when we've already had far too many of them in so short a period of time) -- but there are some who feel there may be something different about this one. 

Meanwhile, Alexius is still in Nicaea, helping both to oversee the new construction and strengthening its defenses.  Wherever he goes, people -- patricians and peasants alike -- flock to see him.  He grants audiences to as many as he can, but he always apologetically waves them off after a time so that he can return to the task at hand.  The message he wishes to convey is clear: "There is much work to be done, and I must help in the doing of it." 



Ever the skeptic, even I must admit that this new Emperor has made a good beginning.  But then, that can be said about many Emperors, both good and bad.  It remains to be seen whether Alexius is truly a good Emperor, and (perhaps more pertinently) whether he can remain on the throne long enough to do any good. 

Yet for the first time in a very, very long time, I've begun to feel...something.  Something that I scarcely recognize, yet I still do.  Something that even in my heart of hearts, I'm almost too frightened to name. 


Hope. 


« Last Edit: November 03, 2020, 09:41:53 AM by Martok »

"I like big maps and I cannot lie." - Barthheart


bob48

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Reply #11 on: November 02, 2020, 03:51:28 PM
Great stuff  :bigthumb:

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Sir Slash

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Reply #12 on: November 02, 2020, 11:41:17 PM
 :applause:  Bravo!

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Martok

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Reply #13 on: November 03, 2020, 03:21:52 AM
Thank you, gents!  Glad you're enjoying it so far. 


I'll admit it's been a little more work than I expected, but I'm also having more fun with it than I anticipated.  Like a lot of folks who play 4x and grand-strategy games, I create stories in my head to fit what transpires in them, but I rarely think to write down any of it (which is something I've been encouraged to do by people in the past).  So I figured that for once, I'd actually plan to do so from the beginning.  And if so, why not do it with an old favorite?  :) 

The most challenging aspect so far has been writing the narrative bits, which, while enjoyable, I don't feel is my forte.  My biggest goal with it right now is simply to keep it from being too cheesy or over-the-top, so that it's hopefully not terribly 'cringey".  ::) 

« Last Edit: November 03, 2020, 08:47:21 AM by Martok »

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bbmike

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Reply #14 on: November 03, 2020, 08:21:39 AM
Seems like a fairly detailed strategic layer. I thought these Total War games were all about tactical battles?

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